A former war veteran, who fought in the Kargil war for India, has been declared a foreigner by NRC officials in Assam. Retired honorary Lieutenant Mohammad Sanaullah has been taken to a detention centre in Guwahati by the Assam Police Border Organisation, after the Foreign Tribunal said he was an illegal immigrant.
The Hindu reported that the 52-year-old veteran was ironically serving as a sub-inspector in Border Police when he was declared a non-citizen. However, the Foreigners’ Tribunal, a court that deals with doubtful citizenship status cases brought by the Border Police, served him a notice.
While a case was first registered against Sanaullah in 2009, he was only made aware of it in 2017 when the first draft of the NRC was released, says NDTV. However, the police listed him as a labourer and apparently noted statements from him in 2008 and 2009—when he was working with Manipur’s counter-insurgency operations.
His family and witnesses have also said that no authorities have contacted them for verification.
Sanaullah’s son Shahid Akhtar, an 18 year-old college student in Guwahati, said, “How can someone who has served the country for so long be treated as a ‘foreigner’, and taken to a detention centre like this?”
Akhtar has also appealed to Prime Minister Modi to take stock of how unfairly NRC process is unfolding.
Sanaullah has served in the Indian Army for 30 years and fought militants in Kashmir and Manipur. In 2014, the President of India commissioned him an Honorary Lieutenant. He then began his work with the Assam Border Police in 2017.
The NRC and its potential issues
The National Register of Citizens is a list of all the ‘legal residents’ in India. It is one of the pillars of the BJP’s Lok Sabha 2019 campaign. In its manifesto, the BJP said it will “combat infiltration” by completing the NRC to keep “illegal immigrants” out of India.
The NRC is connected to the 1985 Assam Accord that says anyone—regardless of their religion—who entered Indian territory after 1971 were to be deported.
However, the NRC became a controversial promise after the BJP started linking it to the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, a piece of legislation that allows religious refugees from the Jain, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, and Parsi faiths to get Indian citizenship but not Muslim and Christian faiths.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill has been tabled because the Rajya Sabha did not pass it before the Lok Sabha dissolved before the elections.
Although the NRC is not legally linked to the Citizenship Bill, critics say that the BJP is trying to use the NRC and award citizenship on the basis of religion.
Earlier in May, officials from Assam said that they needed an extension to complete the NRC because there were many cases being disputed. Assam NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela told the SC that those who have argued against their exclusion from the NRC have not appeared before court to resolve the matter. Hence, he was requesting an extension to the July 31 deadline, but the SC did not agree.
Instead, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who has recently been accused of sexual harassment by a former employee, told Hajela, “be brave and keep the law in mind”, according to the Hindustan Times.
The Congress in Assam also complained that Hajela was illegally using religion as basis to decide who gets citizenship in Assam.
Supreme Court tells Assam to be fair with NRC
NDTV reported that today, the Supreme Court told officials in Assam to handle the NRC with care and accuracy and not rush through it.
A bench led by CJI Gogoi, said, “There are disturbing reports in the media. The media is not always wrong. Reports say how complaints are being dealt with. Hearing of objections has to be done in a proper manner.”
The SC bench added that just because the deadline for the NRC was not extended, the officials handling the NRC cannot undermine due process.
Sanaullah’s son-in-law and attorney Sahidul Islam has already represented him at the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) that works in tandem with the NRC in deciding citizenship.
“It is clear that the Border Police did the investigation sitting in office and the tribunal overlooked all these lapses”, said Islam, according to NDTV.
According to Indian Express, if a case is pending at the FT, then it is also placed on ‘hold’ in the NRC. The defendant must appear at the FT with all necessary documentation, an affidavit, and witnesses.
Counsel Aman Wadud stated that the FT is arguing that Sanaullah did not have a voter ID in 1986 when he was 20 years old.
“They, however, overlook the fact that the 61st Constitutional Amendment, lowering the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, was passed in March 1989”, said Wadud on Twitter.
Wadud added that the constitution of India does not have legs and rests on the accuracy and reliability of authorities charged with carrying out the law.
“WHAT do you do when Constitutional authorities randomly accuse you of being a foreigner? Can anyone give back the dignity that an ex serviceman has been robbed off”, Wadud tweeted.
Sanaullah’s family is now preparing to legally contest his father’s citizenship status.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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